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More Doctors Doesn't Mean Happier Patients

Medicare beneficiaries who live in areas with a greater number of doctors are less satisfied with their medical care compared to patients living in areas with fewer physicians, according to a new study. The researchers also found that patients with access to more doctors were only slightly more satisfied with the amount of time their doctors spent with them.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is based on a 12-question survey of 2,515 Medicare beneficiaries living in different parts of the United States. The survey questions were used to gauge patients' perceptions of the quality and accessibility of their medical care .

Overall, these Medicare recipients seemed fairly happy with their doctors. When asked if their doctors always or usually spent enough time with them, 88.4 percent of respondents living in areas with the highest concentration of doctors said yes, according to the study. In the areas with the lowest concentration of doctors, 85 percent of respondents said that their doctors did.

The results flipped, if only slightly, when it came to quality of care. On a scale of one to 10, the 56.5 percent of the patients in areas of high doctor concentration gave their doctors an overall rating of 9 or 10, for satisfaction of care, compared to 58.8 percent in low doctor concentration areas. Researchers also found no significant differences in access to specialists or availability of medical tests .

"Our results suggest that simply training more physicians is unlikely to lead to improved access to care," the researchers concluded. "Instead, focusing health policy on improving the quality and organization of care may be more beneficial."

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.